‘No Hope for Science in Russia’: Academics Try to Flee West | Russia
Prof John Duggan*, a climatologist at a Russell Group university, had a Zoom call a few weeks ago with two Russian research partners shortly after their country invaded Ukraine. Duggan, who had worked with the academics for some time, suddenly found them “unusually calm and hesitant”. He sensed that “they were worried that someone was looking over their shoulder”.
In Russia, opposing the invasion is risky. But on subsequent calls, Duggan says his friends have grown bolder. Now they have given up hope for their work at home. They believe that there is “no future for science in Russia” and are looking for positions abroad to be able to escape.
Since criticizing the war can now lead to 15 years in prison in Russia, Duggan describes all communications with the scientists he tries to help as deliberately “ambiguous”. But he says: “They are ashamed of what is being done in their name in Ukraine.”
British scholars say it is becoming a familiar story. Russian scientists are turning to partners abroad to help them escape, but British academics say even the most talented can struggle to find short-term positions at British universities.
Last Sunday, Science Minister George Freeman announced that the UK would follow other European countries in cutting most of its research links with Russia and stop funding any research with links to the state and its “institutional collaborators”.
The Russian government last week banned its scientists from attending international conferences or publishing research in international journals. Russian scientists say there is some desire to ignore this, but there are reports that they are prevented from publishing abroad anyway because some Western academics refuse to review research papers. bearing Russian names.
Duggan University, which the Guardian does not name to avoid risk to Russian scholars, makes safe haven for Ukrainian scholars and students its top priority, along with support staff and students already affected by the war. . The university is also studying whether it could offer positions to Russians. Duggan says, “The university wants to be as supportive as possible. It will work within government guidelines, but acknowledges that many Russian scholars and researchers have publicly criticized this invasion, often at great personal risk.
Science is seen as a global enterprise, with researchers partnering with colleagues around the world. Today, many Russians feel that their work, cut off from international collaborations, will wither away.
Dr Alexander Nozik, a physicist at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, told the Guardian: “I believe and most of my colleagues believe that it is simply not possible to do science in isolation. In physics, the scientific journal system in Russia is mostly dead.
Nozik says that “most young academics, including me,” talk to contacts in Europe and formulate a “backup plan.” He adds, “A lot of world-class scientists I know here can’t work on their research because they’re so depressed. They can’t understand how one can live with all this.
Nozik says he intends to ignore the government’s statement banning publication in international journals and many colleagues will follow suit. But he adds that researchers there “complain a lot that academics [in the west] block [journal] papers by refusing to examine them if they have a Russian collaborator”.
Professor Erica Brewer*, an environmental scientist at a northern UK research university, fears for the safety of research partners in Russia who are speaking out against the war. “I received inquiries from two very talented Russian colleagues asking if I knew of any work opportunities abroad,” she says. “A colleague and I have taken out aerials for them, but it is currently not possible to find a place for them in the UK or Europe.”
Dr James Ryan, a lecturer in modern Russian history at Cardiff University, says: “I have been in contact with university friends in Russia. Some of them have already fled and have no intention of returning anytime soon. This is the situation with many others.
However, he says, even if some Russian academics can use their academic reputation and contacts to obtain short-term research funding in European universities, it will be much more difficult to find longer-term jobs in the labor market. extremely competitive academic work.
His own work is affected. Prior to the invasion, Ryan relied on using libraries and archives in Russia for his research, but now he doesn’t know when he will be able to return.
Thousands of scholars in Russia have signed open letters condemning the war. Last Friday, the Russian Ministry of Justice told the Russian People’s Scientific Journal Variant of Troitsky “a foreign agent” following the publication of a letter from scientists and science journalists opposing the invasion and signed by about 8,000 people. The newspaper’s website is now blocked in Russia.
The majority of Russian universities are state-run and last month the Russian Rectors’ Union, which represents almost 700 chancellors and university presidents, horrified UK universities by publishing a declaration echoing Vladimir Putin’s propaganda on the “denazification” of Ukraine and supporting “our president who…made the most difficult, hard-earned but most necessary decision of his life”.
Ryan says that after that, “it would be ethically problematic to ask for a formal invitation to a Russian institution [to do research there]”.
He strongly supports the UK Government’s decision to sever formal links with Russian higher education institutions, but intends to maintain informal personal links with colleagues in Russia. Last week, in an “act of solidarity”, he attended an online conference with mostly Russian historians who he said “were definitely not in favor of the Russian war”.
He adds, “I would be horrified if academics refused to review papers written or co-written by Russians. It’s racism.”
Terry Callaghan, professor of arctic ecology at the University of Sheffield, says: “We have very strong collaborations with Russian scientists and the invasion is a blow to our work.”
Callaghan helped establish 89 environmental research stations in the Arctic, including 21 in Russia, but says “a lot of our research is now frozen because of the invasion.” “I am absolutely sure that many scientists will leave Russia. Putin has divided the nation, but scientists tend to speak English and they also read the internet to understand what is really going on in Ukraine.
Callaghan has suspended his professorship at the Tomsk National State Research University in Siberia after the statement by Russian rectors. He says he has ended all formal engagements with Russia but will not abandon the personal relationships with scientists he has had for 30 years.
However, he says it’s harder to do in other places where he conducts research. “In Finland we are not even allowed to email a Russian, and where I am now [in Arctic Norway] we can’t have a Russian on a Zoom call.
Russian scholars are still welcome to attend the British Association for Slavic and East European Studies’ annual conference in Cambridge next weekend, although they are not representing their institutions.
Dr Ben Phillips, historian of modern Russian at the University of Exeter and a member of the society’s executive committee, says: “We discussed whether to exclude Russian participants, but decided not to. make.”
He says instead the conference, which will feature a speech by a Ukrainian scholar, will have a “strict code of conduct” and panel chairs will ask anyone who expresses support for the invasion of Ukraine to to leave. But he adds: “Anyone who harasses Russian academics because of their nationality will be treated the same.”
* Some names have been changed to avoid identifying scholars trying to leave Russia.